“My talks with Prime Minister Kishida … focused primarily on security policy issues in Europe and Asia”

Further strengthening a close bond

President of Switzerland Ignazio Cassis speaks about his recent visit to Japan


MAY 2022 The Interview / Text by Andrew Howitt / Photo courtesy of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland

After serving in Switzerland’s National Council from 2007 to 2017, Ignazio Cassis was elected to the Federal Council in 2017 and has headed the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs since taking office. He is serving as president of Switzerland for 2022.

From 18 to 21 April, President Cassis made an official visit to Japan. His itinerary included meetings with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi, a luncheon to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan, and a trip to Osaka where he broke ground for the construction of a new Swiss consulate. He was accompanied by a large business and scientific delegation from Switzerland.

Why is the relationship with Japan important to Switzerland?
Japan and Switzerland share a close bond. We both stand for democracy, the rule of law, multilateralism, and a rules-based international order. These principles are indispensable to us. At the same time, these principles are being called into question more and more. It is, therefore, all the more important that we unite in standing up for them.

So, of course, the war in Europe was a key topic to be discussed on my visit to Japan, as were our relations with Russia. After all, Japan and Russia are neighbours.

Could you give some details about what you discussed during your meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Minister for Foreign Affairs Yoshimasa Hayashi?
My talks with Prime Minister Kishida and Foreign Minister Hayashi focused primarily on security policy issues in Europe and Asia. In addition, we talked about cooperation between Japan and Switzerland at the multilateral level: both countries are candidates for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2023 to 2024. Other important goals we discussed are the expansion of cooperation in the field of science and the strengthening of bilateral trade.

Could you tell me about the business delegation that accompanied you on your visit?
Japan is our second most important trading partner in Asia. At the same time, Switzerland is the sixth-largest investor in Japan. So, the great importance of this economic relationship was reflected in the quality of the business delegation on my trip. Among them were the presidents of two large Swiss business associations — Economiesuisse and the SME association Union suisse des arts et métiers — as well as the chairwoman of Switzerland Global Enterprise, our trade and investment promotion agency. There were also representatives from key industries such as pharmaceuticals, machinery, and finance.

The delegation attended selected ministerial and technical meetings and took the opportunity to deepen relations and discuss common issues. At its meeting with the Keidanren [Japan Business Federation], the delegation had an in-depth discussion on sustainability, with specific attention given to transition financing.

A highlight was certainly the networking event with local representatives of Swiss and European companies. Not surprisingly, demography was an important topic — both in terms of the evolution of the market and limitations of the workforce. In this context, the promotion of greater participation of women in the workplace will play an influential role. During a lunch with the Swiss business community, we heard from the architect of Japanese womenomics Kathy Matsui and former Swiss Federal Councillor Ruth Metzler about how further progress can be made.

© Ayako Suzuki

“Japan and Switzerland … rely mainly on ingenuity to create value”

How is Switzerland looking to further business ties with Japan?
Both Japan and Switzerland consider the promotion of free trade to be of great importance. Back in 2009, our two countries concluded a free trade agreement. It is a solid agreement that serves our economic actors well. However, it is time to modernise the agreement. Japan is not yet ready for this process. We will continue to make our case and explore new ways to cooperate within our trade framework, including by further improving the use of the existing agreement.

My visit has also reinforced our joint approach of focusing on innovation in promoting business relations, both in terms of trade and investment promotion. We saw significant potential in this area through official talks, a meeting with telecommunications firm NTT, and a roundtable discussion with Japanese companies from the engineering, procurement, and construction sectors.

Could you tell me about the ground-breaking ceremony for the new consulate in Osaka? Why is the consulate important for Switzerland?
Japan and Switzerland are both innovation leaders with few natural resources. Both economies rely mainly on ingenuity to create value. In Osaka, I had the honour of breaking ground for a new Swiss consulate, which will serve to further promote Swiss excellence in research and innovation and accelerate cooperation with Japanese companies and universities.

The Osaka metropolitan area is known for its entrepreneurial spirit, world-leading universities, and innovation-oriented companies, as well as its numerous startups. The new Swiss consulate will be part of the global Swiss network for education, research, and innovation — called Swissnex — and is the network’s sixth location after opening in Boston, San Francisco, Shanghai, Bangalore, and Rio de Janeiro.

Could you give some details about your meeting with the organisers of Expo 2025 in Osaka, as well as what is planned for the Swiss pavilion?
I had a very good exchange with the secretary general of Expo 2025, Hiroyuki Ishige. Our strengthened engagement in the Kansai region is also tied to Expo 2025, and its theme is highly relevant to Switzerland: designing a future society for our lives. The Federal Council has just approved the budget for Switzerland’s innovative pavilion, where visitors will be able to explore three aspects of its theme of a prosperous and sustainable future: life sciences, environment, and artificial intelligence. I am looking forward to Expo 2025, which will certainly be one of the most notable large-scale post-pandemic events that will be happening in the next few years. •